ETHNIC RELATIONS IN FIJI:
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PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE AND THE RECENT SHIFT
IN THE ETHNIC BALANCE
by Stephanie Sienkiewicz
- Chapter 4
- The Stereotypes
- The Lazy Fijian, The Diligent Indian
- The "Cultural" Fijian and the "Uncultural" Indian
- Fijian Communal Responsibilities Prevent Them From Advancing Alongside Indians Who Have No Culture Hold Them Back
- Fijians Are Backward, Less Civilized than Indians
This chapter will describe the various stereotypes which Fijians and Indians hold about themselves and each other. I discovered these stereotypes after asking people their opinions about the land lease issue and about Fiji's current political situation, and by asking them for descriptions of the differences between Fijian and Indian culture.
I found that while the stereotypes of each group had negative aspects, there was surprising agreement between the two groups about what each culture was like, even though there was evidence that the stereotypes distorted reality. This set of stereotypes was derived from the British vision of the role of each group in the country, and the reader will note the similarity between these stereotypes and those of colonialists, described in earlier chapters. The colonial and enduring notion that it is suitable for ethnic groups to remain in the same country, while maintaining different roles in that country, has affected a balance between the Fijian and Indian communities in Fiji. Furthermore, people continue to accept these stereotypes because they create the comforting picture that each group has its own, positive, role in the larger country. The stereotypes also made people feel that they had freely chosen their role, not that they had been trapped by uncontrollable outside forces. This was an essential component of the ethnic balance and thus has allowed peaceful, though often unfriendly, co-existence for many years.
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While interviewing people of both communities, I discovered stereotypes that were very strong and well defined. I was surprised by the degree that almost everyone subscribed to these stereotypes regardless of the frequency of their interaction with the opposing ethnic group. This was particularly shocking, as I will show in the next chapter, since these stereotypes distort reality. It is this striking, almost universal, acceptance of these stereotypes that allows the ethnic groups to occupy separate "niches" in the country.
One dominant stereotype about Fijians is that they are backward and less "civilized" than the Indians. Both Fijians and Indians believe that Indians were civilized in India before Fijians were civilized in Fiji, and that early start gives Indians an advantage over Fijians in terms of economic development. In fact, the general view was that Fijians have a lot of "culture," which prevents them from developing economically, while Indians are not encumbered by such "culture." People believe that Fijians do not care about money; they share it freely, and will not work hard for it as they are lazy; but they value their culture immensely. Fijians are very "cultural" people, too enmeshed in traditional beliefs and life to make money, according to the stereotype. They value community life and have many strict rules of respect which prevent individuals from bettering their economic lives.
Conversely, Indians are seen as more "civilized," and consequently less "cultural," than Fijians. The stereotypes which result from this include that Indians care only about money, work very hard to attain it, and refuse to share it. They have a greater capacity for development and are smart, sometimes cunning. Their lack of "culture" allows them to achieve economic goals; they do not follow rules of respect that would prevent them from bettering their life situations. The influence of British colonial policy, as described in the previous chapter, on these stereotypes is evident.
The British incorporation of the ethic separation model was devised to help colonialists govern smoothly but had long-term effects on the ethnic identities of both Fijians and Indians in Fiji. The ethnic stereotypes about Fijians and Indians place each ethnic group into a "niche" in which they feel satisfied. My interviews suggested to me, however, that Indians and Fijians continue to endorse these ethnic stereotypes because both groups find them satisfying. As people spoke to me, it was evident that Fijians could laugh about their own laziness because they really felt that they were people who valued human relations more than money. And Indians, were happy to announce that they had no culture and no community because they were proud of the fact that this lack of culture had allowed them to prosper. It was also evident that since both groups ended up feeling good about their own role, the stereotypes, though often uncomplimentary, allowed for peaceful coexistence.
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The Lazy Fijian, The Diligent Indian
The most obvious stereotype emerging from all of my interviews was that Indians are hard workers and Fijians are lazy. Many people, Indian and Fijian, told me this. I asked an Indian cane farmer, who lives adjacent to a Fijian village and leases land, if he thought that the Fijians should renew their leases to Indians. He told me, demonstrating that he held a common stereotype, that Fijians should renew the leases because they will not farm that land themselves. The Fijians are too lazy to be effective farmers unlike Indians who work very hard and are, therefore, good farmers. He said,
A lot of Fijians, they need to renew this lease. They need money
And the second thing that is a big problem is
if the land goes to the Fijians, they will just lie down. Because Indians just cultivate this land, pay the rent. Everything goes to the Native Lands [and Fijians receive their payments]
And now they'll get nothing [if they take back their lands]. They have to do it, otherwise they can't get anything
Indians are very hard workers. And Fijians, they can't do it. I've seen Fijians, they can't do it. Some of them, they can. But most can't.
A second Indian informant expressed a similar stereotypical view of Fijians. He said that Fiji depends upon sugar cane farmers, as sugar cane is the country's main crop. He thought that the economy of Fiji would fail if Fijians took their land back since Fijians cannot work as hard as Indians. "Well, Indians really work hard to get the crops. Fijians do not work too hard. They are good for cassava, dalo (taro root), they are very hard workers for that. But they don't do the planting. Too much land is vacant
They just leave the land vacant." He also expressed an equally stereotypical view of Indians. He said that, Indians work hard because they care a great deal about money.
Because Indians want money to live in a good house. In India before, a long time ago, there was a chief like in Fiji. Now in India, no one is chief there. If you've got money, you are chief. Money is everything there. If you are the chief, you have nothing. If you have money, you are the boss.
Another Indian man told me, that "All Indians are businessmen
Indians will work day and night. They are hard workers."
More surprisingly, Fijians also hold the stereotype that most Fijians are lazy. A Fijian woman whom I interviewed claimed that Fijians are incapable of working as hard as Indians. She too thought that the land leases should be renewed because Fijians are too lazy to farm sugar cane and they would just leave the land unused. She said the leases should be renewed,
because [Indians] have to work on the land. If they do not renew the lease, the land will just lie there like that. [Fijians] will work it but not all of them. They can't work on that land. There is plenty land here. The Indians can. We know them, they are hard working
We Fijians say, "This is our land, it's our land." But we can't work on it like Indians do.
A Fijian cane farmer even subscribes to the common view of Fijians as relaxed and unmotivated to perform strenuous labor. During my interview, I asked this man if he thought that Fijians who take their land back after discontinuing leases will farm as well as the Indians who previously leased the land.
It will be up to the new owners
If they work hard, they'll have the money, but not if they just relax
If they want money, they will [work hard]
Because Fijians, most of us are not hard working people. They just want to relax like the olden times. And just find some small sort of job, like plant cassava.
Another Fijian farmer also considers the majority of the Fijian population to be lazy,
There are people who can't cultivate. If you are lazy, then you can't plant cassava or go out fishing or something else
You see the Fijian way of life now, most of them are like that. Most people living in the villages, they live on this kerekere, begging. No salt this morning or no sugar, go to uncle or Tata Levu (Big father), or whoever. Go and kerekere the sugar or salt from there. But if people work, everybody works, there will be no problem
some people work and they get their sugar and salt and everything and some people just sleep and after that go and kerekere there, begging. I see people do that. Because everybody has their hands there, their feet there, the tools they need. Only laziness stops you from doing such things.
This same Fijian man explained that it is good that Fijians cannot sell their Native Land. He thought that Fijians would no longer have any land if this was possible since all the Fijians would sell their land to make quick money rather than working hard on that land to make money. He said that most Fijians will start farming sugar cane but will only continue for a few years. Because it is such hard labor, they would abandon their land and occupation.
Most of those lands [that Fijians work], Fijians just stay there for two or three years and then go back to the village. They don't use it; they don't farm the land. They just take two or three years. The short time, they can do that. And after that, back to the village. Because they have been brought up on that type of life, kerekere
some people just stay there for two or three years and then go back to the village. The land is vacant. They just leave it there, with no lease money coming in. It is not useful.
In people's minds, Fijian laziness leads them to sleep late and neglect their farms. A Fijian man, now retired, worked as an agricultural advisor for the Fiji Sugar Corporation and went around visiting growers, giving them advice on how to plant cane. He told me that he spent most of his time with Indian growers. He described a difference in the way Fijians do their work and the way Indians do their work.
Oh [there are] plenty differences, how the Indians do their work and the Fijians do their work. Because most of the time when I went out at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., the Fijians were still in their houses. The Indians were out on their farm. You can't find Fijian growers until 10:00 or something
Most of the time I stayed with [the Indians growers]
Oh yeah, [they are] very good farmers, so many generations. The most important thing for them is how to use their time, from early morning until sundown. In the day, when it is very hot, they might be in the house drinking grog or something. Around 2:00 or 3:00, they are back on the farm until 5:00 or 6:00 in the afternoon. So time is very important. Whereas we Fijians, we don't get that thing. When we come to an Indian house about 8:00 or 9:00, there are no Indians there; they are out on the farm. By that time, most Fijians are still sleeping, most of them just wake up.
The stereotype that Indians are good workers and Fijians naturally do not want to work hard is evident in the following interview excerpt as well. Again, I spoke with a Fijian cane farmer.
Cane planting is a very big job, from planting up to harvesting. So we Fijians, you can see, even myself now, my family here, most of them don't want to go to the farm to work. They want to stay [at home]. And only myself will go to the farm and cultivate this land. So during harvesting time, we see now most Indians are just about to finish their crop. But most of the stand-over [left-over] cane is owned by the Fijians because of their laziness and neglect of things
When we stay in the koro [village], we sleep when we should be working on the farm. But Indian farmers now they work on the farm. This season is very hot but [it doesn't bother them]. They just have to go out and get the cane. But we Fijian, no. It is very hot, so we go and take shelter.
One Fijian informant attempted an explanation as to why Indians are so industrious. His search for a reason demonstrates that he believes in the common stereotype that Indians are good workers and Fijians lack the quality which allows Indians to work so hard. One may see too that the many stereotypes are interconnected. In this excerpt, the informant explains the Indian work ethic in terms of their lack of communal obligations,
Take, for instance, you see one Indian boy or Indian girl, school age, sitting on the side of the road with cabbages, tomatoes, from the morning till the afternoon. And imagine, can you do that to one Fijian boy or girl? [No.] Why, why? Why will those people sit there all day? You see Fijian children. They are all going in groups. Those are the kind of things. They love to integrate. But those people, they live individually. They start training them. When they grow up, they know. They start collecting that money from a [young] age. They keep that money
And they start building them up. This money is for this, this money is for that. You have to do this, you have to do that. You have to plant this, you have to plant that. When they grow up, they know
You go to the market
[There are] only very few of us [Fijians]. Most [Indians] are farmers themselves, they take their own goods and sell
They take it from their farms, they grow, all day they spend there. Some the wife, the child. So they start building up from there, how to save. Save it for the bad time.
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The "Cultural" Fijian and the "Uncultural" Indian
The view about Fijians, which contrasts the stereotype of Indians as people who have no culture and who therefore care only about money, is that Fijians have robust culture which causes them not to care about money. Fijians are supposed to cherish and spend their efforts preserving their traditional culture. Both Fijians and Indians attribute the cultural "niche" in the country to Fijians. Political happenings are finalized according to Fijians customs. Advertisements or notions of the culture of the country of Fiji are based upon Fijian rather than Indian culture. It is obvious that Fijians are supposed to value and involve themselves in their culture as that maintains primary importance in their lives. And this diminishes their concerns over making money. A young Fijian sugar cane farmer explained this idea of Fijian culture. "But us, we could be very rich people, but we are still hanging on to our traditions. Once we get rid of that, I think we can be rich." Conversely, citizens of Fiji conclude that Indians lack "culture." They do not occupy the "cultural" but rather the developmental "niche" in the country and therefore care solely about profit and success in the business world.
British colonial policy clearly initiated these stereotypes. Colonialists feared that the Fijian way of life would disappear with excessive foreign contact. For this reason, Britain established laws that were applicable only to Fijians and controlled Fijian interaction with other ethnic groups. Sir Arthur Gordon established the Great Council of Chiefs in 1875 to advise him on this matter. The establishment of the Native Regulations Board and its replacement, the Fijian Affairs Board, both organizations run by Fijians to protect Fijian interests, also demonstrate the value Britain placed upon the preservation of Fijian culture.
The focus of Fijian ethnic identity on the model of a Fijian as bound-to-culture, or highly "cultural," can be compared to the ethnic identity of other Pacific islanders. One native of Samoa explained a similar ideology.
I had also been brought up on a notion of fa'a Samoa, the "Samoan way." This distinctive national self-concept goes back to the distant past in which we distinguished ourselves from Tongans and Fijians and other Islanders with whom we had contact, but it became even more sharply defined from the nineteenth century onward, when Europeans, Chinese and other foreigners began to live amongst us in increasing numbers.
The ideology of fa'a Samoa became defensive. It is as though we were saying, "We might not have the technology, instruments of war and material resources of these foreigners, but we are a cultivated, morally superior people; we are God fearing, orderly, obedient and respectful of our leaders and institutions; generous and family-minded and ever conscious of proper etiquette and manners. [Meleisea 1987: 966]
This account is valuable as it expresses the effect of a colonial presence and colonial attitudes upon natives. This also occurred in Fiji. Although Fijians valued their culture prior to European contact, this was emphasized greatly in response to, and as a result of, British policy. British colonialists treated Fijian culture as something which required preservation and, partially as a result of this , Fijians now consider themselves highly "cultural" people.
Informants routinely expressed the idea that Indians care a great deal about money, while Fijians cared most about their culture, because Indians have nothing else, no "culture" or sense of community, to care about. One Fijian informant thought that Indians lost their culture when they were brought from India to Fiji. Since Indian culture relied upon the caste system, and this disintegrated when British colonialists intentionally mixed castes in the work units they created in Fiji, Indians no longer have any culture to hold on to. I asked this man if he felt bad about having to evict Indians who leased his mataqali's (patriline's) land. He explained,
if you go down that hill there, where the land is flat, those are mostly Indians living there. Indians, you know, they are different from us
When they came from India, they brought their different customs. They came in different castes. Now they are mixed together
They don't want to mix any of their customs with the village. If there is one man's death, [none of them will come]. They don't have their traditions to hold them together like that. They save money because they do not have any traditions.
Another Fijian man told me that he heard Indians actually worship money. "I heard something about them. They worship money. Yeah, they pray for it."
The converse stereotype about Fijians is that they do not care much about money because they lead lives rich in community and culture. A Fijian informant expressed, "The plantations are all Indian. Money for them is very important. For us, we don't care much about money. When we have money, we just take it there and spend it there." And a Fijian woman said, "In saving Indians are smarter. Fijians too could save up but our culture is too much and we can't really save a lot." Another Fijian expressed the stereotype of Fijians caring about their community in the form of sharing. "In the village, we help each other by like, if I don't have anything at home, like sugar, I will just go to my uncle's house
If you have it, you have to give it. Kerekere (begging)." This person also referred to the caring which people assume exists in Fijian villages.
And family and the village community, they love one another
Even I can go right down to anybody's home and just ask them for money, even sandals or trousers. And it will be up to them, but they should give it
It's called solesole vaki. [This] means to help one another
we are weaving mats. We are going to start weaving my mat first
We'll have to go and cut the voivoi [a plant which is cut, dried and woven to make mats] and roll it, start cutting it
[a group] of us. After mine [is finished], we'll do yours. If you want to sell it, then sell it, or what. That's solesole vaki. Those are people's beliefs in the village. We give solesole vaki, help one another.
Fijians are considered loose with money; they will freely share it amongst their family and community. Indians however, are seen as stingy, foregoing communal interests for their own personal gain. Many people described to me that Indians do not share as Fijians do. They reject the Fijian kerekere system. Stereotypically, they value money too much to distribute it to others; they must amass their own personal wealth. In the following interview excerpt, a Fijian man describes what it is like to borrow something from an Indian and how this differs from borrowing from a Fijian,
And we Fijian, when we stay in the village like this, if anything is not here, then we go to friends and relatives to kerekere. But the Indian no. They don't have to kerekere. If they come and ask for something from you, they have to pay it back. If they come and get money or sugar, they pay it back
That applies only to Indians. When you go and ask an Indian for something, you'll have to pay it back. But we Fijian, when we go and ask for something from that house, it is gone for good.
A young Fijian woman also explained to me that Indians require people to pay them back in cash when someone has borrowed money from them. Fijians however, do not care how that is paid back; it could be in food for example. She said,
If we really need money, we [do] ask [Indians]
But you have to pay it back
It's different if you ask a Fijian. If you are desperate for money, like $5 is a large sum for us, so we expect them to pay us back $5 in any way. If they pay us back in money, that is o.k.. If they pay us back anything, that's o.k., as long as they do something to pay us back. But the Indians, no. You have to pay them back $5 cash.
Indian rejection of the kerekere system coincides with the stereotype that they care more about money than human relationships since people think that they don't want to share. The same Fijian woman said,
Like in Fijian, we have this culture of kerekere. Well, in modern times, this kerekere is mostly, you go to one house if you don't have anything, your relatives' house, if you don't have salt or whatever. The Indians have negative attitudes to us about kerekere. They don't want to share their things with us. Because they know, where they are living, some Indians are living right with the Fijians, because they know if they make friends with [the Fijians] the kerekere will start.
Another Fijian man's description of Indian concerns over money also demonstrates the view that Fijians do not care about money because they care more about interpersonal relationships.
If we ask something from a family, we don't have to pay for the thing. Kerekere. But Indian people it is different. That is what they believe. If they borrow something, they have to pay it back. That is not the Fijian way of life
Fijian people, in the village, your problem is my problem. [Indians] don't have that. They do their own. If one family doesn't have anything, they can't just go to someone else, not like Fijian. For Fijian people it doesn't matter if they are poor, they love each other. You eat what I eat. We haven't got any money but we love each other. But the main thing is we share together, we believe in that. Indian people want to have money all of the time. Fijian people never have money but we love each other. Fijians share with each other. If someone doesn't have anything, you should share with them because you might not have anything someday and might need them to share with you then. [But Indians] have to pay. If they borrow one kilogram of flour or one piece of onion, they will pay it back.
The stereotype that Indians care a great deal about money makes people curious; they want to figure out their money-saving methods or the mindset which makes it possible to save money. A Fijian man told me, "These [Indians], they sell [things] to buy foodstuffs, to repair their machines, to buy fuel for their machines. It generates, goes around." They spend money on things that help them to make money. This informant believes Indians to be innately smart and naturally good at making money; this is a common stereotype about Indians. He also suggested that their culture isn't robust enough to keep them from advancing, as with Fijian culture.
They have that mentality with them
it is part of their culture
Of course us, we have a marriage at that place today, go to the village there today, and spend money. But in their religion, when somebody dies in their house, they don't cook anything. But in us, it is the owner who does the most. We prepare all the food for the relatives
Other people bring food [to Indians at a funeral]. Because they don't cook. And delivering money goes individually to the individual house.
Fijians genuinely seem to think that Indians, as a result of being Indian, have the ability to save money. Fijians wonder at this aptitude. One Fijian woman that I interviewed, who is in fact married to an Indian man, told me that she just cannot figure it out. She said that she tries as best she can to save her money but can't do it as well as Indians can.
Because all the time Indian people, they are very smart. In business, in farming, controlling the house. The way they use things, they are very smart. Us Fijian people, until now I still can't get it, why are they like that? Because I still can't figure out how to do it like what my mother-in-law did. She's very smart in using things like food and money in the house. They won't run out of it. Like, me, my wages, I go shopping, come back. I can't save much like they did. They save much money by buying less, but still the thing is enough for them. Even they do the groceries once a month. And they understand what to do, they understand how to use things until they get another ration. Today, I'm trying my best, but still, I can't. Or maybe I can for one week. But I can't go for more than one week. I'm not saying I'm not saving, but she saved more than I can. They are very smart, very smart people. Like I said, education, business and household, they are very smart. They save things. They cook a small thing and it's going to be enough for the whole family. I cook plenty, or maybe we are big eaters [laughing].
Fijians are assumed not to care about money matters but only about communal village matters and respect. They must adhere to strict cultural rules within their community. People's attention to this shows the stereotype that Fijians are deeply involved in their culture. An example of these community regulations follows. A Fijian child told me,
If I want to call somebody, if I am sitting here and my friend is sitting on that side, I am not allowed to shout and call her. I should just go over there
Because we are living in a village, because our elders [live in the village].
Villagers must respect their elders. Another child said, "Our elders, they always send us to one house like this to borrow something. They always tell us to knock first. And if they tell us to come in, we sit down and we ask them. We don't go straight away inside." Fijian concern about community and respect rules is seen as a result of their commitment to culture. A Fijian woman told me, "[Indians] act differently from us. Because us Fijians, we respect everyone. They don't respect." Another informant said that Fijians are "cultural people."
They are addicted or whatever
they follow rules, it's culture. Before, there was a different kind of system in Fiji, not the one going now, the government. Before we used to be like that. If anyone lived in a village and didn't follow these rules, the culture, [there was] punishment
They would call everybody
and have a meeting to talk about it [if someone did something against the rules.].
One Fijian informant demonstrated this caring about/committed to the community stereotype. He commented that if someone in his family dies his culture will lead him to buy three, four, five or six cows. He said, "I don't care about money, I just care about my family." Similarly, the article "Is Kinship Costly?," by a Fijian social scientist, N.Rika, defends the stereotypical notion that Fijians are not concerned with money because cultural and family matters are more important as it traces the Fijian author's decision to forgo his university examinations to attend his brother's funeral (Rika 1975). This model of robust Fijian "culture" and subsequent indifference towards money is so dominant that even a native scholar embraces the view that Fijian culture keeps them poor but is a superior thing to money. He said, in describing how much money he spent to get to the funeral and for the traditional requirements for the funeral, "We lost in material wealth but gained immeasurable peace of mind and a deep feeling of group solidarity and cohesion" (Rika 1975: 949).
Another aspect of the stereotype that Fijians highly are "cultural" is that Fijians are considered extremely friendly. Since they live in close proximity with their fellow villagers, they must always be friendly and forgiving.
A Fijian is one who always smiles. We talk to anyone that comes close to us, even if it is a stranger or if it is a neighbor
We just treat them the same; it doesn't make any difference. "Oh Bula, How are you? Do you want to have a cup of tea? Or lunch or dinner?" [Fijians] always have to do that.
People think that Indians are totally unfriendly or else that they are only friendly with those whom they know well; they are always suspicious and are not accepting of strangers. A Fijian woman told me, "But Indians are nice once you get to know them; then they are friendly to you." Another woman told me that when one is out strolling, Indians will not say hello to you unless they know you. This is why people think of them as unfriendly.
In contrast to the belief that Fijians have a strong sense of community which binds them together and to their traditions and also supports their needs, people believe that Indians have no community or communal obligations. A Fijian communal sense contrasts with stereotypical Indian individualism. A Fijian informant expressed,
[Indians] are a kind of independent people, they live independently. Do your own and I will do my own
They are a business kind of people. They were brought here to work and that's what they are still doing now.
These extremes of Fijian communalism and Indian individualism are demonstrated in residential patterns. A Fijian man explained that village life gives Fijians a social structure by which they are supported and through which they may ask for assistance if necessary. He stated a dominant stereotype that Indians lack community, are isolated and independent, and lack support from anyone but their own household. The following excerpt describes the support system which Fijians can use, because they live in a village community, when they have difficulties. "If they can't solve [the problem] here [in the family], they go up, if they need the tokatoka's assistance. If the tokatoka (sub-lineage) can't handle it, it goes up to the mataqali (lineage). It goes in that ascendancy
goes up through the hierarchy." The informant said that Indians have nowhere to turn if they have a problem; they must solve it in their own family, in their individual household. The stereotype is that Indians lack any sense of community and therefore do not value their family and other relations as much as Fijians.
A Fijian explained Indian lack of concern for family and community. In this quote, he demonstrates the stereotypical belief that Indians don't care about anyone but themselves, that they are individually, not communally, motivated.
When [Indians] get married, [they] will be separated by that time. When married, [they] have to separate from [their parents'] house. One will go do well with his business and will never come back to visit
Only the last time they come, most of them, is when they bury their parents. They just never come back. That's their own way of living
If there is a quarrel between brothers, they won't talk to each other until they die. Even they can kill each other. They quarrel about land, who is responsible for that land. They can kill each other over that.
Another Fijian informant also described that Indians have weak and easily broken communal and familial ties.
[Indians] are far away from us, how they live, the way they live. They can't live in a community like this, together. The big thing about the Indians that is different from us is, if I have an argument with you today, I might solve it just afterwards, even the same day. In the afternoon of the same day [I'll say] sorry [and] give my apologies. And that's all, finished with that. Indians are a really different kind of people. If they get in an argument today with a brother, it's just death
they will never talk to each other. And even they can do anything to each other, like serious things. They might get choppers
end up killing killing your own family
start arguing and crying, crying, crying. And take a knife or the only thing inside.
Another Fijian man described Indians as uncaring,
We are different because if people do something to me and I am angry and starting to hate you, if we get in a quarrel
[Indians] never forget again. They never forgive, even if you are brothers and sisters. I don't understand it. If you are my sister and we quarrel, I'll never forgive and you will never forgive, for the rest of our life
Our [Indian] neighbor, he has an elder brother. He was farming also on the farm. They had a quarrel and he asked his brother to move out. [They do not speak to one another any longer.] If I had a problem with something my sister did to me, I would forgive her.
He explained that when Indians quarrel, they won't even attend each other's funeral. A son might not come to his own father's funeral. The young Fijian cane farmer continued to explain interfamily disputes in the Indian community.
They fight over land or a husband and wife fight, like when a husband cheats on his wife
A man was found there hacked to death. His body was found two days later. The man who found the body was the same man who killed him. They were friends. The reason was because one of them went out early one morning to his farm and he found a goat. The murderer had a herd of goats. The man who was hacked to death took a rope and tied it around the neck of one of the goats [who had strayed from the herd] and tied it up in the hills. When the man came around looking for the goat, he couldn't find it. [The murderer] found the goat then. He brought the goat back. On Saturday, he asked the other man to come and drink grog at his house. When he came to the house through the cane farm, cane was everywhere, [the murderer] jumped out at him. He came at him with a cane knife in the neck. He was angry with the man for tying his goat in the hills. The goat was only in one place; the man never changed it [and the goat was starving]. So they were friends, but then he did that.
This man told me another story about Indians murdering Indians. This second story is about people killing members of their own family and thus expresses the stereotype that Indians do not value their family ties as much as Fijians. Unlike Fijians who sympathize with each other, Indians have no feelings of loyalty; they, therefore, act entirely on principle and to pursue wealth.
[There were two] brothers. One of them had a daughter. [The other brother had a son. And the daughter of one brother and the son of the other] wished to elope. They eloped, they went to Nadi. And [the family] reported it to the police. I was the one who drove down there to bring the girl back. The boy wouldn't come. [Two years passed before he came back]
When he came back, [this was] ten years ago, [the girl's brothers] invited him over for a drink. They planned it. They invited him over for a drink and then they started stabbing him with broken beer bottles. All of them together stabbed him. And the next morning [I wanted to borrow some farming equipment]. I went there, there were flies all over the ceiling because there was blood. At that moment I knew that that was him. One of them is spending his life in prison. The other two were pardoned
But [Indians] are very smart too. Because the father of that boy, his name wasn't on the land contract.
This informant explained that the father wanted his son to marry the daughter to get the rights to the land. This demonstrates stereotype that Indians are cunning as well.
Another Fijian man contrasted the Indian trait of not respecting family ties with the characteristically Fijian notion that community is more important than anything and nothing can break the bonds of communal life.
But us, we can just go out hiking, not like that, we can't fight. Mostly [Fijians] argue, like men, when they are drinking. They start arguing and start fighting. And when they wake up in the morning, they are just friendly again. Never mind if somebody gets a black eye. But the Indians, they can't just do that. [According to Indians,] If you hit me, I'll hit you
It's like that
an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
If you hit me, [a Fijian], I will always love you.
While it is perhaps not shocking that Fijians would express such stereotypes, it is more surprising that some Indians have the same view: Indians have no sense of community or family. An Indian man told me that the Indian community and Indian families are not enmeshed in a respect system.
Here Fijians are always respecting the chief too much. Indians here in Fiji are different. We don't respect. You have money not to listen to someone else. That's our way. You work hard, that's our money if we want to go anywhere. Someone is not going to come and command me. We have our own. We have no chief to command us. That's [the Fijians'] religion, to have a chief. We haven't got, Indians have nothing [like that].
Another Indian informant expressed this same stereotype: Fijians are too wrapped up in their culture and Indians lack this commitment.
These people, the Fijians, they have too many mataqali. Sole [donations to communal causes]. If anything, they have to give the money like that. Families give the money to that, if somebody died or something. For Indians, if anyone died, we don't give a single cent to them. For my mataqali or my family, no. But they are a different religion. Give money, everything. Why should we give? But these Fijians have a different way.
An Indian man again emphasized that Fijians have many rules to follow while Indians lack such "culture." He said,
In Fijian families, too many are respected. If there is a big high level chief, they will bow and all. But the Indians don't do respect, no. This is my father [motioning to his father by his side] He is an elder. My sisters and my family all come, they don't respect him. They just say, "Hi, hi." And go. Fijians are highly [respectful].
Generally all citizens of Fiji, then, regardless of ethnicity, believe that Indians do not follow rules of respect. The stereotypical Indian lack of respect and lack of concern for others point to an overall lack of "culture," which is how both Fijians and Indians identify the Indian community.
A young Indian woman's statements indicate that she sees the general Indian community as lacking respect. She said that Fijians have taboos wherein one has to respect his/her elders no matter how much education he/she has. She said that usually if someone holds a white-collar job and has more education, then that person looks down on others. This is how Indians see it, she said. The Fijians don't see it this way. The following excerpt shows how she thinks the majority of Indians do not respect their elders, as accords the stereotype of Indian culture. She explained that Indians are divorced from their tradition while her Fijian classmates relish in their culture. I asked if she noticed a difference between herself and her Fijian friends, if they want to follow their culture and traditions more than she does. "Yeah, usually even in the village activities, they take part. They are not ashamed of it. But usually you see that Indians are ashamed of taking part in their own tradition and culture." While Fijians are bound by communal rules, therefore, Indians just do what will individually benefit them most.
An example of the Fijian opinion that Indians lack respect is evident in a thirteen year-old Fijian girl's remarks. She told me that Fijians call people who show rudeness, by standing while all others are sitting, Indians.
Fijians, when somebody is sitting down, we should sit down too with them. If they are standing up and somebody is sitting down, we always call them Indians, because they don't do that. Because that's how we should be. If someone is sitting down, then we should all sit down. If only one is standing up, we call them an Indian, "Are you an Indian?"
The young Fijian cane farmer also said that people view Indians as lacking respect and proper etiquette. His exaggeration emphasizes Indian "rudeness."
When we meet someone we say, "Yadra" [Good Morning] or "Bula" [Hello], something like that. If we see someone outside we ask them to come in, "Mai kana." [Come eat]. The Indians don't do that.
When you enter a Fijian compound, you have to say, "Dua, dua, dua" [Asking permission to enter]. Indians don't do that. They never knock, they just come in. They come in whichever way they want to the house, either by the door or by the window.
He also said about Indians,
Some of their ways, they are very irritating, they way they act sometimes
At the table, when eating, and they want something, they don't ask for it. They just take it. After waiting for a few minutes they just serve themselves. They don't say, "Can I take [something]." And they never use a spoon or knife or fork. In their beliefs, they never use their left hand [to eat]. They left hand is for washing up after you go to the bathroom. So if you use both hands, they'll start looking at you. We don't use our hands anymore but they still do most of the time
Some, the way they talk, it is rude. Maybe because we are Fijian, we are different from them, or maybe something else. In some ways we are very different and in some ways we are the same, because we have been living together
We are different people. They still have their ways of living.
Another Fijian man described Indian lack of respect.
They come and just stand there when other people are sitting down if they want something
Their manners are not like Fijian manners. We have got manners, the Fijian people. Not like the Indian people. Like that one there [a neighbor], he is staying like that. He will just come and stand at the door. Fijians don't do that kind of thing. We sit down if we want something. That is the difference
But manners they don't have.
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Fijian Communal Responsibilities Prevent Them From Advancing Alongside Indians Who Have No Culture Hold Them Back
Fijian communal life is seen as supportive at times but is also thought of as overbearing and controlling because of the obligations it places upon people. As previously described, it is generally believed that Fijians are more involved in their community than are Indians. And, this relates to the notion of culturally immersed and connected Fijians. These strong cultural ties often interfere with Fijians' productivity, it is thought. Because they have so many contributions to make to their community, they are prevented from doing other things such as farming.
The Indian community thinks of Fijian cultural requirements as oppressive. Indian informants routinely expressed contentment to live in isolated nuclear families rather than in a village. They believe that village life is typical of the overbearing culture of the Fijians. Indians told me that they prefer privacy to the communal life of the Fijian village wherein everyone is too tightly interwoven. An Indian man said,
More is free [when one lives "individually"]. When something is cooking, not everyone is coming and checking what is going on [laughing]. Privacy. I don't think I could stay to live [in a village] for one hour.
An Indian woman told me,
Indians prefer to be in nuclear families. Before we were in extended families, but now we are all in nuclear families. Just a small house, their family and that's it. Relatives come and they go; they do not live in that house. It is a better way of living. Everyone's needs and wants are cared for. Mostly, by having nuclear families and not living in the koro or village, we find that there is less conflict, less chance of conflict. Like if you go somewhere, you go there and come back. You don't have that much time to develop a conflict. And if you live together, usually that is the case.
Her explanation shows that she views Fijians as trapped by social roles because they are overly involved in their culture and community.
I am glad [I do not live in a village]. Because if someone comes, you can't stop it. If you are in a village, everyone has some right on you. You are not let on your own. There are different roles to be filled by you and we face role conflict in that way. Usually in the village, we have mataqali. They are good but they are also a source of conflict. In festivals you have to contribute certain amounts. But if you don't have it, you still have to borrow and then give it.
A retired agricultural advisor for the Fiji Sugar Corporation spoke about the act of yaqona drinking and said that it interferes with Fijian cane farmers' work. This is an example of "culture" interfering with development. Drinking yaqona, or grog, is a central symbol of Fijian culture. It may be highly formalized or an informal daily activity. In either context, drinking it implies that one is enmeshed in his/her community. That community is valuable enough to a person that he/she will spend long periods of time sitting, drinking, and talanoa (telling stories), with other Fijians. To say that this activity interferes with one's productive life is to indicate that Fijians are too bound by their culture, they should move past this to a more civilized existence. His description about being on duty and going to speak with the Fijian farmers shows this stereotype.
And most of us, when we go into the Fijian villages, you just have to go there and those people call you for grog drinking. "No, no. I am not here for grog drinking. I am here for a job," giving advice to people, advising them how to cultivate their things.
Communal obligations prevent Fijians from being productive and advancing according to the following Fijian informant. He said, "At times we have traditional obligations, like festivals. We spend all day at the festival. Doing nothing from the morning till night, no one going to farm or anything." He explained that Indians do not have this communal mindset but are focused on their individual gain. "In us, it is communal gathering; we do it communally. Like the festival last week, [that money] goes for the communal purpose. For [Indians], it only goes for one house." He said that when Indians make money, they spend it for their own house. When Fijians make money, they spend it "mostly for the traditional commitments
It's culture, culture bound
When one of our children starts working, [we get] money from them instead of giving them the money to spend for themselves." His description of Fijian obligations as culture bound and his contrast of the economic situation with Indians' economic situations illustrates the stereotype that Fijian culture keeps them from progressing while an Indian lack of culture allows them to do so.
A Fijian informant explained how Fijian communal regulations, and the tight grasp which their culture has on them, prevent them from advancing in the world. He told me, "You can see for yourself when you go to the big towns, cities and all they have, who makes the most [money]. Most of these villagers are only planting for their subsistence
That's our village." He expressed that Indians are developing more so than the Fijian people. He demonstrated too, that Fijians' adherence to their strict cultural rules is that which prevents them from advancing in the world.
Our set of obligations sometimes prevents us from
Say in our village obligations; [they] stop us from attending to our daily crops, unlike Indians. They start from Monday to Sunday. They go straight. Nobody bothers them, no turaga ni koro [village administrator], "Hey stop, go there, go and do something there," communal work [as may happen in a Fijian village].
Another informant, a young Indian woman, expressed the stereotype that Indians are disconnected from their culture, that they really have no culture to hold on to, and this is why they can save money and develop. This differs from Fijians, who are held back from advancing by their strong cultural ties. She explained that Indians want to be like Westerners in urban areas of Fiji. She said that, in general, "Indians are being more influenced by the Western ideas and cultures [than Fijians are]." She said this was due to "the exposure to different cultures and traditions. Sometimes they think those other cultures are superior to their own." She believes that Fijians are more embedded in their culture and community than are Indians.
Fijians are influenced by Western cultures but not as much as the Indians. Fijians respect their culture and tradition. That is the most important thing of all. Whatever happens, they follow their religion. Usually we don't see Fijians changing their culture. Indians are.
Fijians and Indians, then, believe Fijian culture and its communal ties keep Fijians from developing. They also believe that Indians lack these things and can, therefore, develop and economically prosper.
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Fijians Are Backward, Less Civilized than Indians
Aside from the allusions which have emerged from expressions of the other stereotypes associated with Indians and Fijians, people have also blatantly commented that Fijians are backward and Indians are more civilized. This stereotype is displayed in an excerpt from an interview with a Fijian cane farmer. He said that since India was civilized before Fiji, Indians are more advanced than Fijians. Community and tradition are more important to Fijians than making money.
We Fijians are very late. We became civilized very late, in the 1900s
We are starting to catch up with the businesses
We Fijians just like to live in a community in villages. [In the past] we didn't care much about our land. That's why the Indians came here, [because the Fijians didn't want to work]. We just kept our land and enjoyed the money that was coming from the leases.
A Fijian woman said that Indians treat Fijians like they are backward.
The Indians, they treat us as people who don't have good manners. Running around the compound, shouting, screaming, especially young children. They don't want the children to mingle with the Fijians because they think that is bad.
Indians are supposed to be smarter than Fijians, according to the stereotype. And this follows the notion that Indians are more civilized. That is why Indian teachers are biased toward Fijian students, explained one Fijian informant.
Some of the teachers are very biased. If you are in an Indian school and you are Fijian, if you are very smart, top of the class, come first, you score the highest, they will, even on annual exams, do something to keep you down. Indian teachers do that. Because they want the Indians, since it is an Indian school, to lead, not the Fijians to lead.
A Fijian woman told me that Indians are smart and good in school. Conversely, she expressed the stereotype that Fijians are neither. She explained that if a child has an Indian mother and a Fijian father, a teacher might criticize the student saying, "Why are you not good in school, [when] your mother is Indian?"
One may see how the stereotype of Indian advancement and civilization corresponds to the idea that they can work harder than Fijians and that Fijians are less advanced because of this. A young Indian woman, described Indian development and Fijian lack of development,
But right now you'll see that the Indians are more advanced than the Fijians. The Fijians, they lack that ability to develop. So usually they are hindered by that quality in them. And the Indians, they run out of control
like they want to become someone
Fijians, they lack that quality. They do not like to work hard
[Indians] want money, to overcome poverty. And they want to be happy
because without money, no one is happy
they really care [about money]
But many of them are just like they don't want it
They can [work hard]. They just don't want to.
I asked a Fijian informant why Indians have a different attitude from Fijians about working hard. He said, "What I think is that they have been civilized for so many years. When they were brought from India, they knew that they came here to farm the land. They came here to work."
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This chapter has shown the various ethnic stereotypes which citizens of Fiji hold about Indians and Fijians. One striking feature of these stereotypes is that there is virtually universal agreement about them. Informants, no matter their ethnicity, produced the same stereotypes with remarkable consistency. The description of Indians and Fijians in Fiji could be likened to a rehearsed dialogue. This uniformity of answers shows the prominence of the stereotypes included in this chapter.
The dominance of these stereotypes can certainly be attributed, in part, to the role of British colonialism in Fiji's history. Asesela Ravuvu, a Fijian scholar, explained how contact with the Western world presented Fijians with various new situations and ideologies to consider,
Living with other ethnic groups who have continued to dominate the business sector and are thus generally in control of the market economy, Fijians are confronted today with the most difficult task of adjustment of their lives: trying to maintain their uniquely Fijian world with its inherent beliefs and values against the influences of the market economy
[T]hey fear losing their customary values and the extended kinship relationships which have continued to provide them support, security and an identity in a cosmopolitan situation whereby their survival as a people has continued to be challenged by numerous development ideologies such as multiracialism
All of these "isms," however, are subsumed under the well-known concept of modernism as against Fijian traditionalism. [1987: 957]
Modernism represents British contact with Fiji and the resulting colonial policies wherein Fijians were set aside as something to be preserved. Ravuvu went on to point out that the British feared the extinction of Fijian culture as a result of contact with the Western world. Fijian interaction with other ethnic groups was thus controlled by colonialist laws. The British consideration of Fijians as a people who should be left alone to live their "culture" left a void in the labor pool for which Indians were brought to fill. The British sanctioning of culture and labor thus established a system of ethnic separation which remains to this day in Fiji. It is this system which Ravuvu depicted in the above passage. The ethnic stereotypes held today in Fiji continually revitalize this system.
Since people could easily tell me what differences existed between the two ethnic groups of Fiji, and since they gave such similar answers, it is obvious that these ideas are well established in thought. The definite existence of the stereotypes proves that citizens of Fiji conceptualize the country as a conglomeration of two ethnic groups with differing characteristics. And since most people hold the exact same ideas about Indians and Fijians, one can see how it is possible that each group has a distinct role in the country. People believe that Indians lack culture, care only about money, and are capable of working very hard because that is what their ancestors came to Fiji to do. It is no coincidence then, that Indians dominate the business sector of the country. People believe that Fijians are completely enmeshed in their robust culture, that they are not concerned with money, and that they will not work hard because this is how the British portrayed them. It again is no coincidence that Fijians exist largely on a life of subsistence and remain living in villages. The stereotypes which are believed about these ethnic groups influence which national role each ethnic group takes on. Since the two cultures have taken on two different roles, the country has remained in balance, with little ethnic tension.
On to Chapter 5...
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